by teresalaynebennett

You’ve heard the mantra, “Knowledge is power,” right?


That much-quoted “truth” is so blatantly and utterly ridiculous, I can’t believe I believed it. I heard it repeatedly spouted in motivational seminars and books and – for more years than I’m willing to tell – totally bought it.

Those speakers and writers all stole it from Sir Francis Bacon – the person credited with first making this statement in the early 1600s. To be fair to Sir Francis, he didn’t mean what our culture thinks he meant. He was all about using technology and philosophy to understand and control nature. Our culture has twisted his statement to mean “knowing something gives power to the person who knows it.”

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. And I can prove it with just two garden-variety examples.

TV shows vs. good books

Have you heard the old Chinese proverb, “Those who do not read are no better off than those who cannot”? Our own, pithy Mark Twain tweaked it to: “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.”

Both lead to my first example. We know our lives will be far more enriched by reading good literature than by watching the vacuous stuff on most TV and cable channels (PBS excluded). In fact, I’ve heard several researchers claim that our brains are more active and engaged when we’re staring at a blank wall than when we’re watching the latest reality show. Yikes. Let that sink in.

How often have you heard someone say, “Oh, I’d love to read that latest book by _____. I’ve heard it’s really insightful reporting about ______. But, dang, I just don’t have time.” How many times have you said or thought that? I’ll fess up right now; while I’ve learned not to vocalize it, I still think it which is just as daft.

The truth is, almost all of us have time to enrich our lives with educational books and good literature. We know if we delete an hour of worthless TV drivel, we’ll have an hour to spend on a worthwhile book. We simply chose not to act on knowledge we already possess about the worthlessness of pop TV shows and the contrasting worth of good books.

Then there are those of you who’ve decided to use your knowledge, turn off the boob tube, and read that latest New York Times Best Seller. Good for you! You have converted your knowledge into power.

photo of young woman reading a book

For her, knowledge equals doing.

Second example:
body weight

Look around you. How many people do you see who could stand to drop 20 to 30 pounds? How many obese people do you see? A whole bunch, right? (According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, about a third of us are obese.)

  • Do we know how much damage we’re doing to our bodies?

  • Do we know how expensive it will be to mitigate that damage later in life?

  • Do we know how in-the-basement our quality of life is now?

Of course we do! We can’t go a day without hearing or reading about the altogether nasty ramifications of being overweight or obese – or seeing its consequences up close and way too personal. But many of us simply decide not to do anything with the knowledge we possess. Our knowledge is not power.

Then there are those of you who, bless your souls, have decided to act on your knowledge and are slogging through the difficult process of losing weight. Good for you! Your knowledge has, indeed, turned into power.

By now, you’re probably thinking of examples you’ve seen of our persistent disconnect between knowing and doing* and wondering Why, oh why, do we do this?? Sloppy filing systems inside our brains? Laziness? Forgetfulness? Hard to say.

For a tiny percentage of us, there’s valid cause: brain damage. (In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell quotes a researcher who states, “Damage in the ventromedial area [of the brain] causes a disconnect between what you know and what you do.” But the vast majority of us, despite what the in-laws say, can’t claim brain damage.

Knowledge is NOT power.

Only when we DO something with our knowledge does knowledge translate into power. I’ll not belabor this. Here’s my pay-attention tip, which is a more accurate version of the motivational-speaker tripe: USE of knowledge is power.

Have I told you anything new? Nah. But we all need reminders that encourage us to do what we know we need to do. Why not do your part? Share a way you’ve turned your knowledge into true power.

red box with white text: " learn and not to do is really not to learn. To know and not to do is really not to know.” – Stephen Covey

That 7-Effective-Habits guy you’ve heard about

*A couple of smart guys have teamed up to write a book about this very issue, as manifested in the workplace: The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action. See? It isn’t just little old ladies harping about this issue. Plenty of people a lot savvier than I are trying to get us all to pay attention to this worrisome gap.

© 2014 Teresa Layne Bennett